Washington • Republicans on Sunday kept up a drumbeat of criticism directed at Attorney General Eric Holder, who has come under fresh scrutiny following the Justice Department's handling of leak investigations.
"The attorney general has to ask himself the question, 'Is he really able to effectively serve the president of the United States and the American people under the present circumstances?' That's a decision he'd have to make," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said on CBS's "Face The Nation."
When pressed about whether he thinks Holder should resign, McCain said it was up to Holder. "I think it would be tough for him to answer the question whether he can still effectively serve the president of the United States," McCain said.
As Republicans pounced, Democrats defended the attorney general. The Senate's third-ranking Democrat said he believes Holder will stay on as the nation's top law enforcement officer. "I haven't seen anything that would prevent him from continuing to do his job," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said on NBC's "Meet The Press." Schumer said he and President Barack Obama have confidence in Holder.
"I don't think he should step aside," echoed Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
The Justice Department has been criticized in recent weeks for its tactics in a pair of newly disclosed leak probes in which investigators obtained journalists' phone and email records. Republicans have seized on Holder's remarks before a House committee, which they say are at odds with what he knew about one of the investigations.
At the appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, Holder said the potential prosecution of a journalist reporting sensitive information is "not something that I have ever been involved in, or would think would be a wise policy."
But a subsequent Washington Post report about a Justice Department investigation into possible leaks of classified information about North Korea to Fox News reporter James Rosen has spurred Republicans to question whether Holder was telling the truth. Law enforcement officials characterized Rosen as a possible "co-conspirator," and multiple reports say that Holder was personally involved in signing off on the Rosen warrant.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. James Sensenbrenner , R-Wis., sent Holder a letter last week asking for clarification about his remarks. The Republicans have given Holder until Wednesday to respond.
Goodlatte said Sunday that the conflict between Holder's remarks and his involvement in the Rosen matter is "very troublesome" but that the attorney general's response must be reviewed before the question of whether Holder lied is ultimately answered.
"We also think it's very important the attorney general be afforded the opportunity to respond," Goodlatte said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Holder's recent testimony that he had never been involved in the potential prosecution of a journalist for disclosing sensitive material is consistent with his role in the investigation of Rosen.
"These are perfectly consistent. It is often the practice in cases where you have investigations that you target somebody for the purpose of gathering information with never having any intention of prosecuting them," Van Hollen said on "Fox News Sunday."
"I don't think there's perjury. There's been no prosecution or attempt at prosecution of any journalist, so there can't be perjury," Schumer said.
In a statement, the Justice Department has said it does not "anticipate bringing additional charges" against anyone in the leak of classified material on North Korea.